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Four Union Leaders Address TAUC Leadership Conference

May 15 2014

An old adage tells us there is “strength in numbers.” The truth of that statement was never more apparent than when TAUC welcomed the leaders of four international building trades unions to our 2014 Leadership Conference, held May 6-9 at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay near San Francisco.

Participating in this year’s conference were Ed Hill, International President of the IBEW; Bill Hite, General President of the United Association; Terry O’Sullivan, General President of the Laborers; and Walt Wise, General President of the Iron Workers.

All four leaders addressed conference attendees during the general sessions and provided updates on their respective unions’ legislative priorities and plans to grow market share. Among the topics covered: multiemployer pension reform, and the urgent need for Congress to adopt the “Solutions Not Bailouts” proposal; the impact of the Affordable Care Act on unions and contractors alike; and the overarching importance of safety on the jobsite.

A common theme throughout the presidents’ remarks was their dedication to training members to meet the demands of a rapidly changing twenty-first century economy, especially in the energy sector.

“The promise of energy independence [in the United States] can be realized, and it can stimulate our manufacturing industry,” Iron Workers President Wise told a crowded room of contractors on May 8. He added that union construction can also play a crucial role in upgrading our nation’s infrastructure to support an economic recovery. “But we need you to want to grow – to want to be number one – to have the confidence in our ability to deliver for contractors and owners alike to meet our goals,” Wise told attendees.

IBEW President Hill emphasized his union’s commitment to upgrading the skills of journeymen and trying innovative new training methods, such as blending classroom training with online instruction. “Rather than accept lower expectations, we have put our energy into raising our standards…we cleaned up some of our internal procedures and culture that were holding us back and not giving our employers or customers exactly what they needed,” he told contractors on May 7. “We are going to beat our non-union competition not on ideological grounds, but by outperforming them. Customers are not interested in the history of trade unionism. They want to know, ‘Can you get the job done on time, within budget, and work safely? Can you get me the skilled people I need to bring our project to a successful conclusion?'”

Laborers GP Terry O’Sullivan reiterated his union’s strong support for the Keystone XL Pipeline, and urged the Obama Administration to approve its construction. He warned that if environmental extremists win on Keystone, they will use their newfound momentum to kill all pipeline expansion, as well as the practice of natural gas fracking.

But O’Sullivan was also upbeat about the state of the industry. “To me, ‘labor-management cooperation’ is an overused phrase,” he told the crowd. “Far too often, they are empty words that have no real meaning, substance or value. But this labor-owner-contractor partnership we have through TAUC is a shining example of real and lasting cooperation. I believe because of our unique partnership, we are all better prepared and better positioned to adapt to the changing dynamics of the economy.”

United Association GP Bill Hite also called for the quick approval of Keystone, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of jobs hang in the balance. In addition to the labor needed to build the actual pipeline, every refinery and chemical plant receiving product through Keystone — many of them in the Gulf Coast region — will need to be modified to process the oil sands crude. That means more jobs for union contractors and their partners in labor.

In addition, President Hite emphasized the importance of protecting the jobs of U.S. workers in general. “We fight every day in Washington, D.C. to block foreign workers from coming in to the country to do our work,” he said. “Jobs in America should be done by U.S. citizens, period – and we should train the workforce of the future for our industry right here in the U.S., too.”

Going the Extra Mile

But the union leaders did more than give speeches. All four presidents and their staffs participated in the TAUC Customer Caucus, a one-of-a-kind opportunity for union officials to have direct, in-depth conversations with owner-clients. This year, representatives from American Electric Power, Ford Motor Company, Consumers Energy, NRG Energy, ArcelorMittal, Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) attended the Caucus.

That wasn’t all; three of the presidents also met with the TAUC Board of Directors (President Hill was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict). For more than 90 minutes, the Board engaged the presidents in a wide-ranging, no-holds-barred discussion on how contractors and unions can better work together to improve our industry.

“On behalf of every member of TAUC, I want to thank the four building trades presidents for making time in their extremely hectic schedules to attend our Leadership Conference,” TAUC CEO Steve Lindauer said. “What we saw on display in California was nothing less than the living, breathing embodiment of tripartite cooperation. The opportunities our contractor members and their customers had to talk one-on-one with these union leaders and their executive staffs proved invaluable.”

Mr. Lindauer added, “We work in an incredibly high-tech industry, and some of the feats our contractors accomplish boggle the mind. But at the end of the day, we rely on people, not technology, to get the job done. Developing strong working relationships and, yes, even friendships across many different crafts and disciplines, is what really matters. The TAUC Leadership Conference allows our hardworking members, their customers and partners in labor to sit down, look each other in the eye, and talk openly and honestly about the business challenges they face. It sounds simple, but I’m convinced this is how we will begin to move union construction forward in the coming years.”

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